Most days this week I made my way over to the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary campus for the Theological Lectureship presentations by Marlene Kropf and Daniel Schipani.They talked of the practical theology work of spiritual formation and transformation, particularly as lived out in the ministries of spiritual direction and pastoral counseling.
It was a rich time with much to reflect on, including these painted silk banners hanging in the chapel. They are the work of Michelle Hofer, artist-in-residence at Hutterthal Mennonite Church in Freeman, South Dakota, based on the Orthodox icon by Andrei Rublev of the three angels visiting Abraham at the oaks of Mamre, generally interpreted as a presentation of the Trinity.
This photo doesn't do justice to the way the silk shimmered in the light, a wonderful sight. There were wondrous things going on outside as well, like these blossoms, or a dogwood tree that was luminescent in the sunlight.
Sunday it was warm enough for frogs to be out enjoying the sunshine at the Calendar Garden. This fellow was close enough to record, but I couldn't get a clear shot of the bullfrog that clambered up on a lily leaf, sinking it about an inch under water.
I was surprised to see that there were already tadpoles swimming about -- we'll see how well this attempt at including a video works. I love the way their little tails motor them along.
Tadpoles came in two sizes -- giant and tiny. The ones above are small. Five of the large kind found shelter on the rock below. The tadpole-looking shape in the upper left is actually the reflection of a dragonfly that was zooming around like a mini-helicopter.
Here's another bullfrog, with a host of the tiny tadpoles, those tiny black specks on the rock at the top of the photo.
Kristy Shellenberger Yordy's sermon at Assembly this morning was The colors of the new covenant -- in our midst, on our heart and she created a rainbow as she talked of the former covenants and the way their colors are woven into the new covenant described in Jeremiah 31. Daughters Sophie and Meiling helped by pouring a rainbow of M & M's into a bowl and leading the congregation in a repeated response of "The days are surely coming...when I will make a new covenant."
The rainbow of colors continued in various spots around Goshen this afternoon. It's an amazing spring -- we hardly had a trace of our usual muddy March.
In the evening we joined a worship service at Benton Mennonite, celebrating the feminine face of God as the Grower. I don't have the words of the song we sang that drew on the words of Hildegarde of Bingen, but here's another quote by her that includes her frequent theme of "greening" -- and as creation awakens this spring, and with all the resounding melody I've enjoyed today, it seems particularly apt.
Without the Word of God no creature has being. God's Word is in all creation, visible and invisible. The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. All creation is awakened, called, by the resounding melody, God's invocation of the Word. Hildegarde of Bingen
Jennifer Byler Youngberg painted the beautiful silk banner below as a visual for the service. And bringing the rainbow imagery full circle today, we poured a rainbow of colored sands into vases in celebration of the way even the tiniest seed and the tiniest grain of sand is held in God's love.
For earth's cycles and seasons
for the rising of spring and the growing summer
for autumn's fullness and the hidden depths of winter
thanks be to you, O Christ.
from Philip Newell's Celtic Benediction
There's no turning back now, though our spring has arrived a month or so earlier than usual, and we may still have a blizzard in April. The seasons turn, sometimes in unexpected rhythms.
So let's celebrate the glory of quince blossoms and leaves opening, and other sights from our yard the last day or two.
For the life force in seeds buried in the ground
that shoot green and bear fruit and fall to the earth
thanks be to you.
(Philip Newell's prayer, continued)
Let me learn from earth's cycles of birthing
the times and seasons of dying.
Let me learn of you in the soil of my soul, O Christ,
and your journey through death to birth.
Let me learn of you in my soul this night
and the journey of letting go.
Philip Newell, Tuesday night prayer, Celtic Benediction
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any -- lifted from the no
of all nothing -- human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Blessed are you, O Child of the Dawn,
for your light that dapples through creation
on leaves that shimmer in the morning sun
and in showers of rain that wash the earth.
Phillip Newell, part of prayer from Celtic Benediction
Spring is bursting out in an exuberance of colors and way ahead of schedule around here. A mixed blessing, with fears that it will all get nipped by an early frost -- but to be enjoyed in the meantime.
This afternoon my spiritual direction peer group met at Pathways Retreat Center, combining retreat time with our monthly meeting. We spent time with the theme of fire, beginning with lectio divina on Moses and the burning bush. Janie read the passage from The Message, and the phrase that stood out for me was "blazing out."
I think I normally picture the burning bush as a compact, rather cozy little fire. This time I pictured pointy flames blazing out, which reminded me of the icon above, of Mary and the burning bush.
Later I had time for a meditative walk in the woods and found the bushes full of green blazes, appropriately for St Patrick's Day (and not a snake in sight). Our temperatures have been running about 35 degrees above normal this week, and the plants think it's spring.
I like the way walking with my camera in hand slows me down, as I take time to look more closely and to notice things I would normally rush past. I've heard of someone else who accomplishes the same thing by going for walks with a magnifying glass. I like the close up feature of my camera -- especially with these tiny plants in the moss. I included my finger in one to give a better sense of the size.
More pictures from my time at the Hermitage. The labyrinth is looking a bit flattened by the winter, but the seasons cycle and it will soon be green. Two years ago I walked it in late spring, finding a multitude of wildflowers and grasses bordering the path.
The seasons cycle and now is an in-between time, and the dried milkweed pods in the fields capture that well -- some bare husks, others still with seeds waiting to be carried by the wind, all making intriguing sculptural shapes.
A lovely 24 hour retreat at the Hermitage last night and today, a gathering of spiritual directors for three sessions led by Marlene Kropf on Into the Silence. And last night we participated in the Hermitage's monthly Taize service.
Except for the sessions with Marlene and the worship services, our time was spent in silence. Silence in terms of speech with other humans, that is. I spent an hour last evening, and another this morning, wandering through the woods and fields. It was far from silent. The birds and frogs were greeting this warm spring weather with loud hosannas.
I heard, and in many cases, saw chickadees, hairy (or possibly downy) woodpeckers, a red-bellied woodpecker, crows, redwing blackbirds, robins, cardinals, mourning doves, a rooster, nuthatches, and sandhill cranes. A single crane flew low over the retreat center this morning, not far from the bench where I was sitting and watching birds at the feeder.
I'd like to share some of the sounds I heard -- the flutter of bird wings at the feeders, or the clatter of the sandhill cranes, or the loud chorus of spring peepers on a nearby pond, but there seems to be some hitch in loading that sort of file. So here instead is a memento of something else I enjoyed - being able to spot last year's bird nests in briar patches and bare branches.
I came back home to more warm temperatures, and a tornado watch -- it must be spring. But this same turmoil also makes for some magnificent clouds. I glanced out just before sunset and then had to go outside and watch this light show sail past to the north of us.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"